My transgender life: The trans phone conundrum
I pick up the phone and dial the researcher’s office number. His assistant answers. He’ll pass on my request for information. A couple of hours pass and my telephone rings. “Hello, is that Beth?” asks the caller. ‘Beth?’ I think. Then I realise what’s happening.
Drum roll, please. It’s the trans phone conundrum! See, when I gave the assistant my name, neurological pathways became tangled. It happened somewhere along the complex route that connects the area that hears an unbroken voice, with another that comprehends the name ‘Ben’. Subconsciously, I’ve come to accept it – it saves getting all upset – a simple solution was improvised. Occam’s Razor or something.
“Oh, she must have meant ‘Beth’,” said the assistant’s synapses.
I answer in a non-committal way. I say “Yes”, but only in the sense of, “Yes, I did call earlier, now about that…”
That happened about a month ago. I was a new intern and did not want the entire office hearing me correct a stranger on the phone. My co-workers were still getting to know me themselves, though that was a lot easier, since they could actually see me. For them, there was more of an age issue. Sure, they read me as male, but many skipped the part where they remind themselves I’m a twenty-something not a teenager on work experience.
Last week I received a cheque in the post from a well-known fast food chain. They were, very kindly, covering the cost of my phone that suffered a terminal injury at the hands of one of their staff members. It’s a long, almost unbelievable yarn, but I only mention it since it led directly to another installment of Ben’s adventures with the trans phone conundrum. The letter was lying on the mat inside the front door to my building, addressed to ‘B. Smith’. Inside, folded snuggly into a voucher for two free meals, sat a cheque made out to ‘Miss Ben Smith’.
Alone in the hallway, I choked on a laugh caught in a gasp. This time, I reason, the crossed neurological wires could not have solved the conundrum subconsciously. Someone had actually decided to write ‘Miss’ followed by ‘Ben’. I then proceeded to feel the particular indignation of a trans person, to whom certain issues appear extremely clear and simple, which to non-trans people seem completely the opposite or perhaps non-existent.
I’m not suggesting that writing ‘Miss Ben Smith’ is the most outrageous, offensive or idiotic thing a person could ever do. Far from it. Yet, if one considers the two conclusions the cheque-writer had to decide between, it reveals how invisible trans people really are.
I would guess that it had never occurred to said cheque-writer that they were writing, and had spoken repeatedly on the phone, to a transman. Again, no shame or guilt intended against this person. This is simply the society we live in. Today, your garden-variety good person no longer assumes that a man implies ‘woman’ when he refers to his ‘partner’ or vice versa. However, the same person decides the individual whose name is Ben must be a ‘Miss’ because they speak in a higher register or indeed that their name must in fact be ‘Beth’.
Yes, there are much bigger challenges facing social minorities, transgender or otherwise, but it doesn’t hurt to point out those which can be most easily overcome. It is important here to make the distinction between this issue and that of using correct (read ‘intersectional’/‘PC-gone-mad!’ as per your own capacity for empathy) language.
In this instance, I’m not requesting the use of particular terminology to describe me and my trans brothers and sisters. I’m easy-going on that front, as long as no one’s being willfully offensive. All I’m asking is that society exerts the tiniest effort to remember the possibility that a person is or could be transgender.
I know we’ll get there collectively and I for one may be about to transition with the aid of hormones. Yet others – pre-hormone, non-hormone – will remain vulnerable to such pitfalls for some time to come. So, I look forward to the phone conundrum becoming a footnote in ‘transtory’ (did I just coin a phrase?). One day, it’ll seem as archaic and quaint as 19th century cloth bindings about scouting adventures, with titles like That Boy Who Shall Have Him? Gradually, people realised it sounded like a bad joke. Just like making a cheque out to a ‘Miss Ben Smith’.Tagged in: gender, sexuality, transgender
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